The first 12 years of my life were a meld of “The Wonder Years,” “Leave it to Beaver” and episodes from “Ozzie and Harriet.”
It was during those years that I lived on a street called Corralitos in San Luis Obispo — meaning “little coral” in Spanish. The mission padres supposedly kept their horse corrals in our neighborhood, which is a box canyon of sorts with hills on one side and San Luis Creek, which flows adjacent to San Luis Drive, on the other.
Our neighborhood was classic post-World War II, with each home headed by a veteran, whether a former pilot, a surgeon or a frontline grunt. And each of these men with their wives had kids, lots of kids. Our neighborhood virtually teemed with baby boomers, whose educational needs would create multiple new schools around town in the years to come.
Taking a stroll down memory lane, many evenings on Corralitos and San Luis Drive were devoted to cocktail parties — with the men invariably wearing GI-issued khaki pants — while we boomer kids played kickball or softball in the traffic-less streets until well after dark.
It was on one such gloaming evening, a warm one in late summer, that we were playing softball when Gary Hitchcock (now a Ph.D.) hit a high popup and a bat swooped down to echolocate a tag on it. Well, that was the end of the game and the beginning of bringing that bat back time and again as we tossed the ball into the air repeatedly.
My brother Craig, ever the budding scientist with a need to study the natural world, decided to get a net to capture the bat for closer examination, which he did.
It may have been the menace of the bat’s teeth, or its squeaks of terror or its battering of leathery wings against its mesh prison, but my brother decided to kill it. And then for reasons that escape me to this day, he put it on top of Fred and Barbara Mugler’s trash can.
Dr. Mugler, wife Barbara and family lived several doors down from us, and when Fred found the dead bat, he was apparently disheartened. As a doctor with an unblemished reputation for empathy and caring among his patients — and all living things — he decided that the dead bat was a teachable moment.
The next evening, as the gaggle of boomers got together for another round of softball and bat catching, Fred met us in the street; he had a fluorescent star chart, the type where you could line up different constellations with a wheel within a wheel. He’d show us Draco as it crept up on Orion, whose three-star belt and club were plainly visible in the night sky. He explained the star cluster Pleiades, or Seven Sisters, located in the constellation of Taurus, as the seven daughters of the titan Atlas. All the while correlating the fluorescent wheel chart with the heavens. It was obviously an unforgettable experience.
Fred, now 89, Barbara and family moved from Corralitos about the same time we did in the early 1960s. Ultimately, the Muglers would move to Palo Alto where Fred worked in a VA hospital.
So, the magic of scaling the adjacent hills, playing in San Luis Creek and evening kickball and softball games — the “Leave it to Beaver” childhood that had nurtured young lives and our neighborhood — had come to an end.
As sad as that sounds, it’s not because some things never end.
It’s believed that on any given night, we’re able to see billions of stars in the heavens (if you include the Milky Way), and because The Lovely Sharita and I live in a neighborhood without street lights or any other ambient lighting, I’ll step out on our deck, look to the firmament, locate Draco, Orion, the Pleiades, and silently thank Fred and decide that 3 years old isn’t too young to give Tiny Man — my grandson — a teachable moment among the stars.